Even when they were 6-1, they really weren't, not in any true sense.

Now the winless streak is six. Today, the Lightning and Panthers play in Sunrise. It sure did get dark quick.

Suddenly, the boys are 6-6-1. And the skate fits.

"The roller coaster has been going down," Marty St. Louis said. "It hasn't been going up much."

Thursday was more death drop, a loss to a Washington club the Lightning creamed in the season-opener. The Bolts beat up on a weaker schedule, scored at will and all but toyed with opponents to snatch 12 points in their first seven games. Then the road beckoned … and the schedule beefed up … and eyes were forced open. Gravity has taken hold.

"Now we're back to reality," Steven Stamkos said. "We have to find a way to get out of this."

It appears these aren't the 1984 Oilers after all. The scoring machine can't even get out of its own end. The Lightning still top the NHL in goals, but were ninth in the Eastern Conference as of Friday morning, probably back where they should be, on the edge of contention, the only question being which side they'll end up on at season's end. That's the reality.

"It wasn't a 6-1 team, I can tell you that right now," Lightning coach Guy Boucher said late Thursday night. "We scored a lot, we did a lot of really good things, and I don't want to take that away. The reality is there's a reason why everybody was putting us between 12 and 7 (in the conference), fighting for a playoff spot, because that's what we are, fighting for a playoff spot."

There's still no excuse for winless in six, for wasting that great start. But it does remind us of something. Yes, the Lightning do appear better than they were last season, only: They were really bad last season.

Maybe a lot of us were fooled, some Lightning players included.